Friday, February 25, 2005

When a blog becomes a job

Blogs are big news at the moment, and they might just be about to make big money for a lucky few.

The Guardian thinks so:
"It's possible for an individual, skillful blogger to have income from a blog," says Adriana Cronin-Lukas, a consultant for fledgling firm the Big Blog Company, and a serious weblogging evangelist. "But ultimately it is the communications aspect of the blog that brings money in - by blogging about a company or expertise."

Others have found fortune in different ways. The anonymous writer behind Belle de Jour, the notorious and disputed diary of a London call-girl, has made a mint from her salacious stories, recently publishing a book and subsequently signing a deal for a TV series on Channel 4.

A handful of budding entrepreneurs have even taken the bait and tried to cross blogging with traditional publishing to fish for profit. Nick Denton, a former Financial Times journalist and experienced dotcommer, is recognised as the king of commercial bloggers.
Nick Denton of Gawker and New York web designer Jason Kotke regularly feature as the likeliest to profit early from the blog phenomenon. Kotke spoke to Wired about his recent move to full-time blogging.

Darren Rowse is another blogger who is making a living from blogs.

Watch this space.

Losing relevance online

For so long the Wall Street Journal has been held up as a successful model of how to make the web pay. Not only is it an authoritative, well written and well edited mass circulation business paper, but it seemed to have its act together online as well. Its online subscription policy was seen as being a smart move for a publication that "owned" business and finance reporting in the US market. Accordingly it could charge for access. News, on the other hand, is too easily available to charge for.

But maybe the silver web lining in the WSJ cloud has tarnished. Writing in Wired, Adam L Penenberg says:

"Since most people refuse to pay for WSJ stories, most bloggers are reluctant to link to them. It also has an impact on anyone who uses the web for research -- and there are a lot of us. As importantly, the next generation of readers is growing up by accessing news over the internet, and one place they are not surfing to is With their habits being formed now, there is little chance the Journal will become part of their lives, either now or in the future.

As a result, there is a meme that has begun to take hold that questions the Journal's long-term relevancy. It began, I believe, last fall with John Battelle, founder of the defunct Industry Standard, who realized he couldn't remember the last time he had read The Wall Street Journal, even though he is a subscriber. Since he couldn't share links with his community (read: bloggers), he ended up passively boycotting it. Battelle suggested the Journal partially open up its doors to bloggers by allowing them to link to specific stories, which they could share with their readers, but if they wanted to access any other part of the site, they'd have to pay up like everybody else.

J.D. Lasica, a former editor for The Sacramento Bee, followed up with a blog post entitled, "When publications remove themselves from the conversation," in which he confessed that he planned to let his Journal subscription run out because he couldn't link to his favorite writers. He believes the Journal, with its "walled garden" policy, is shutting off its site to newcomers."
A similar thing has happened to the Australian Financial Review and Penenberg's conclusion about the Wall Street Journal could easily apply to the AFR:

"What it needs is a new online strategy. The Journal should take the bold step of jettisoning its subscriber model and open up its archive to the public. In the end, it would make up the loss of subscriber revenue with money from advertising, which has been growing briskly. Sure, it might take a while -- perhaps many years -- but this is the only way for it to ensure its long-term survival."

Today's blogs

Slate has a new feature, a roundup of blog discussions - highlights, you could say.

Washington Post's continuous newsdesk

Robert J. McCartney, assistant managing editor of The Washington Post's continuous news desk, discusses online news and how "continuous news" works at The Washington Post and in an online chat.

Abbott's feel-good spin

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has been in the headlines all week, but not because of his portfolio responsibilities. Instead, the minister has been talking about the responsibilities he shirked as a young man when he allowed his then pregnant girlfriend (actually, she'd dumped him by this stage) to give up their child for adoption. Twenty seven years later the child turns up as an ABC sound recordist who works in Canberra's Parliament House. Wonderful coincidence.

This is the way The Age broke the story last Monday:
"The day after Christmas a nervous Tony Abbott made a call into his past, and was rewarded with four words that took his breath away: "Thanks for having me."

It marked a reconciliation and reunion with the son, Daniel, he gave up for adoption 27 years ago."
It ran all week. There was the inevitable reaction the same day; the minister's plea on day two for his new-found son not to be used as a 'political football' in the abortion debate (thus ensuring that he was); pained reaction from Daniel's adoptive family; speculation on the effect this story would have on other adopting families; and so on ...

All of this was kickstarted by an almighty stoush between Bulletin editor Gary Linell and the editors of News Ltd papers, particularly The Telegraph. You see the Bulletin had the story first but agreed to hold on to it until Abbott had had time to talk to his family. Big mistake. Anne Summers picks up the story in today's Age:
The whole story is recounted in considerable depth and with a great deal of sensitivity to all parties in this week's Bulletin magazine. Journalist Julie-Anne Davies got a tip some weeks ago about the Health Minister being reunited with his son. She approached Abbott, who confirmed it but asked her to hold off publishing the story to give him time to talk to relevant people. The magazine could have run the story last week but agreed to the minister's request. He then betrayed them.

Last Sunday afternoon, just after Davies had filed her story, Tony Abbott rang his good friend Piers Akerman, rabid columnist for The Daily Telegraph and alerted him to the fact that The Bulletin was running with the story on Wednesday. Late that afternoon Kathy Donnelly rang Davies, extremely upset, to say she had had a call from Akerman. Abbott has told The Bulletin that he had no idea that Akerman would run with the story the next day; he was reminded by The Bulletin of the deal they had and claims to have rung Akerman a second time and also to have spoken to his editor and asked them not to publish.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Stopping the presses

Forbes analyses the economics behind the decline in newspapers:

"Though many publishers can boast of increasing their shareholders' earnings during the past 40 years through acquisitions and cost-cutting, only a few have managed to buck a trend of declining readership. The combined weekday circulation of all U.S. dailies has dropped from 62.8 million in 1985 to 55.2 million in 2002. That gives it the lowest penetration of any medium.

Worse for newspaper publishers, that trend is accelerating as the Internet has become embedded in the daily lives of so many potential readers both young and old. The top 20 news sites drew an average of 5 million individuals each month in early 2002. That figure has risen to more than 8.5 million, with the top sites drawing more than 20 million unique visitors a month. [...]

The Internet has changed the economics of the publishing industry in a way commercial television never did. The price of news and information has irrevocably been pushed way down the supply/demand curve. The Web has also destroyed the functional monopoly of the local daily newspaper with the very high barriers to technical entry. Anyone can be a publisher, and, it seems, these days, most anyone is. [...]

People may decreasingly read news from branded and trusted newspapers, but, surveys show, they do want to read it from them online.

There lies the trap for serious journalism. Going online has not yet worked convincingly for many newspapers. Despite spending billions to create online editions, these are read by fewer people, less frequently and less fully than print editions are."

Sony pays 25k a month for Gawker blog

AdAge reports that Sony is paying $25,000 a month for a new Gawker blog - Lifehacker.

The deal, which also includes placements on Gizmodo, Gawker's earlier gadget title, will cost Sony in the range of $25,000 a month, according to a source close to the deal. The sponsorship runs for about three months. [...]

But because Gawker sites are considered the cream of the blog world and Sony is a blue-chip marketer, the pact assumes a rare status. [...]

Although several famous blogs like and Instapundit pull in up to $20,000 a month from their many advertisers, and marketing on blogs in general is starting to appear on media buyers' radar, such deals are far from mainstream. Still, media pros are buzzing about whether the Sony-Gawker pricing begins to define buys on high-profile blogs going forward.

Peter's principles

News Corp executives met last week to discuss the company's online strategy. Coincidentally, company president Peter Chernin outlined his 10 rules for media survival at a Forrester Consumer Forum.

Chernin explains that networks and advertisers need to work together on new formats, and that companies need to turn to technology for new forms of distribution. In particular, he looks at the most contentious issues currently facing the media and threatening future profits including: fragmentation, ad-skipping, and piracy.

Chernin's rules are:
"Rule 1: Realize that consumers' desires of control, choice, convenience, and simplicity have not been altered by the recent changes in technology.
Rule 2: A wired home does not change anything. It merely allows consumers to move content from one device to another within their home.
Rule 3: Media companies and advertisers have to redefine their relationship.
Rule 4: Consumers don't reject advertising, they reject complacency. Advertisers need to evolve the methods through which they reach consumers, especially their old habit of using 30 second commercials.
Rule 5: Content is still king, but financing the kingdom is complicated.
Rule 6: If content is king, then marketing is the crown prince. Broadcast or cable networks need to create tightly focused brands, like HBO, FX, or MTV.
Rule 7: Get noticed. Even the brightest ideas need to be original, more audacious, and more gripping.
Rule 8: The industry cannot ignore the fragmentation that is going on around the world.
Rule 9: Nothing compares to the spontaneity and thrill of things that are live, including sports, news, and entertainment.
Rule 10: If the industry does not solve the problem of piracy and can thus not protect content, all other rules are meaningless."

We Media one year on

Chris Willis and Shayne Bowman are interviewed about the reception We Media has received one year after publication:

"We Media" tries to define what many journalists and media executives have been sensing for sometime — the media world is shifting. What is the most unsettling thing for media professionals is not change but how the change is happening and where it is coming from. Change is not coming from traditional competitors but from the audience they serve. What could be more frightening? These changes have been growing in momentum for some years. Mainstream media now has to make the choice: Embrace their audience as true collaborators or try to save the existing business model.

What few journalists and executives understand is that their audience is motivated to work with them. People are seeking a more intimate relationship with their storytellers — those who help them make sense of the world. They are willing to become actively engaged in the news gathering process. For this effort, they are looking for something remarkably simple, inexpensive and, yet, impossible for many news organizations give in return: Trust.

In the coming years, news organizations will have to figure out how to become equal partners with their readers and viewers. They will have to become better listeners, rather than doing all the talking. They will be the ones being informed, rather than informing. That will be the change.

Ohmynews in English

OhmyNews celebrated its fifth anniversary on February 22. Now it is building a global network of citizen reporters writing in English on OhmyNews International.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

News in pictures

10x10 is a new site that scours the top news headlines on the web using photos, which combine to create a broad snapshot of the world every hour on the hour.

Wired gives the rundown:
"10x10 takes the most common words from major news outlets like BBC World edition and New York Times International and couples them with pictures. The site lets users interactively search for the top stories by scrolling over pictures and the words associated with them."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

More on RSS

Could RSS provide a new revenue stream for news?

RSS is rapidly growing in popularity, although it's still in the early adopter stage. Recent Pew research shows that only about 5% of internet users are using RSS.

From the user's point of view it's a mighty simple and easy way of getting the stories you want rather than having to wade through a bunch of links and headlines some editor thinks you're interested in.

And there's the rub. If RSS takes some of the editorial selection out of the hands of editors - and it might - how will news sites be managed? It's a not-too-distant dilemma for online news managers. Once RSS feeds and aggregators start to gain mass popularity the whole idea of a front page that attracts the majority of visits - and a premium for ad placement - starts to look wobbly.

It's worth thinking about, even if it is still a little way off yet.

Will we have to pay for RSS feeds? How far will news sites go in dropping existing content to protect offline businesses? It's already happening with some Scandinavian papers.

So what is an RSS feed? What do they look like? How do they work? Where do you get them?

Here's a start: The Age has a handful. The ABC has put its TV guide on an RSS feed (woohoo!). Not much else available from the Australian media (nothing from News Ltd). But the Washington Post shows what a large paper can do, and same goes for the New York Times.

Try this collection of feeds set up by Jonathan Dube at Poynter.

TV news in a postmodern world

Some wise words from Terry Heaton.

Television news is just as threatened by new technologies as newspapers, perhaps more so. Heaton urges a new mindset to rethink the paradigm. In fact it's simpler than that; he's saying "get energised by the challenge". And why not:
"The road to profitability means a new vision and a new skillset. 'We're a television station' used to be top dog. But he's tired and weary now, and gravity is beginning to take over. The new top dog is something like 'we're a multimedia company and we also have a television station.' He's fresh and new and ready to go."

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson dead at 67

Sadly, the writer who invented "gonzo" journalism has died. Even more sadly, it was by his own hand.

Associated Press reports:

"Hunter S. Thompson, the acerbic counterculture writer who popularized a new form of fictional journalism in books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” fatally shot himself Sunday night at his home, his son said. He was 67."

Thompson's last column, Shotgun Golf with Bill Murray, ran last week on ESPN. It's typlically gonzo in style:

"The death of professional hockey in AMERICA is a nasty omen for people with heavy investments in NHL teams. But to me, it meant little or nothing -- and that's why I called Bill Murray with an idea that would change both our lives forever.

It was 3:30 on a dark Tuesday morning when I heard the phone ring on his personal line in New Jersey. "Good thinking," I said to myself as I fired up a thin Cohiba. 'He's bound to be wide awake and crackling at this time of day, or at least I can leave a very excited message.'"

Perhaps most appropriately, Tom Wolfe should write the send-off:

"Hunter's life, like his work, was one long barbaric yawp, to use Whitman's term, of the drug-fueled freedom from and mockery of all conventional proprieties that began in the 1960s. In that enterprise Hunter was something entirely new, something unique in our literary history. When I included an excerpt from "The Hell's Angels" in a 1973 anthology called "The New Journalism," he said he wasn't part of anybody's group. He wrote "gonzo." He was suigeneris. And that he was.

Yet he was also part of a century-old tradition in American letters, the tradition of Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, comic writers who mined the human comedy of a new chapter in the history of the West, namely, the American story, and wrote in a form that was part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention, and wilder rhetoric inspired by the bizarre exuberance of a young civilization. No one categorization covers this new form unless it is Hunter Thompson's own word, gonzo. If so, in the 19th century Mark Twain was king of all the gonzo-writers. In the 20th century it was Hunter Thompson, whom I would nominate as the century's greatest comic writer in the English language."

Thompson's style was to make the writer an essential component of the story. Photo: Montana 1969, HST archives

More gloom for papers

The Washington Post pitches in with this piece on the dire situation for daily newspapers.

It's bad, but there is a little bit of life in the old beasts yet:

"Newspaper companies are by no means close to extinction. Most large companies continue to report healthy profits, and ad revenues appear to be picking up. But classified advertising, specifically help-wanted ads, is a bellwether of how newspapers are regarded as effective advertising tools. Increasingly, employers are using other resources to recruit workers.

General-interest papers such as The Post and the New York Times are playing a sort of game of chicken with each other: None wants to be the first to charge to use the Web site, fearing that users will refuse and simply migrate to a competitor whose site still is free. Papers, however, have begun using their Web sites to provide Internet-only content that gives in-depth information on everything from football to politics beyond what is available in the newspaper. In future scenarios, such content may require a paid subscription. A potential model is ESPN's Web site, which includes a great deal of free content but charges $6.95 a month for its premium "Insider" reports. In the online news industry, this is called moving content 'behind the wall.'

Caroline H. Little, publisher of, said the site has considered charging for premium content, but she is worried by examples she has seen elsewhere in the industry. The New York Times recently hinted it may start charging for some of its Internet content.

'So, not to say that it's not a possibility in the future, but our first priority is growing our audience, and this would clearly hinder that,' Little wrote in an e-mail. About 80 percent of users live outside the Washington area, the site's research shows.

The good news for newspaper Web sites is that, after the 2001 dot-com crash, Internet advertising has roared back, exceeding previous highs. Total Internet ad spending in the first six months of 2004 was 40 percent higher than in the comparable period in 2003, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

The sobering news? Internet advertising still accounts for only about 3 percent of total ad spending each year."

The Guardian was even gloomier last November:
"Suddenly a mood somewhere between apprehension and panic stalks newspaper offices. The end of the world, it seems, may finally be nigh. What are papers for any longer? What purpose do they serve? And why are fewer and fewer people buying them, year after year?"

Letters to the editor on the web

Still on the New York Times, their public editor continues to provide good copy as he muses about the paper's relationship with its readers. This week he's thinking out loud about letters to the editor and how the exchanges around the letters' page - the ones that don't get published, as well as the back and forth between reporters and readers - could find a home on the web.
"The better use of the Web site could also give readers the chance to see letters from The Times. One of the great frustrations of my job is seeing the thoughtful letters that go out from Times reporters to readers who have taken issue with something they've written. Why frustration? Because one reader gets the benefit of the thoughtfulness (and, sometimes, the writer's candid acknowledgment that he or she might have done something better), and a couple of million others who might appreciate it do not."

NYT and bloggers

Jeff Jarvis has published a nice little exchange between himself and Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times.

Jarvis had challenged the NYT to a sit down to discuss what he perceived as the Times' "issues" about blogging and bloggers.

NYT buys

The New York Times company has bought, a network of 500 or so niche sites and a leader in search-engine optimization. It's a big signal about the way the NYT management is reading the industry and where it's heading. have an extensive interview with Martin Nisenholtz, Senior Vice President for Digital Operations at the New York Times: part 1 and part 2.

Jay Rosen has deconstructed the decision and added some extra comments from Nisenholtz.

It's this that has been driving recent online acquisitions by old media companies:
"Being caught unprepared for the surge in online spending is part of what's behind the deal the New York Times struck, the purchase of by Dow Jones, publishers of the Wall Street Journal, and the acquisition of Slate by the Washington Post Company. In each case, a national newspaper company realized it would be leaving ad money on the table if it didn't act."
By comparison, in Australia PBL bought in 2003.

John Battelle breaks it down nicely:

"The Times saw About as an opportunity to get into the search game, certainly - lord knows news is not a very profitable business when it comes to paid search. But there's more. About provides the Times a platform to explore microcontent without having to - necessarily - extend the Times' brand to everything. And as I've told anyone who will listen to me, I think microcontent is key to winning in the Web 2.0 publishing world. When publishing folks from mainstream newspapers tell me that blogging is far too small to possibly impact their businesses, I often ask this question: Would you rather have scores of microsites with a combined revenue of $15 million, profits of $3-5 million, and a double digit growth rate, or a newspaper group with revenues of $50 million, profits of $5 million, but declining growth?

The Times actually has a profitable and growing newspaper group, and it's much bigger than an average publisher, but my point is this: the opportunity in publishing is clearly moving down the tail, and if you want to win, you need to play down the tail as well. allows the Times to do just that. About is based on Six Apart's MT, for one, so if they want to extend the Times own brand into blogging, they're already halfway there." will let the NYT run both a locked and a free model of web publishing. It's quite foreseeable that the main newspaper web site would move towards a locked or subscriber model while would remain free.

Forbes takes a different angle:

"The fact that the deal comes on the heels of these other deals is a red herring ...

The Times, The Post and Dow Jones each stand to gain a nice chunk of the fast-growing Internet advertising pie that is expected to increase from $6.6 billion 2003 to $16.1 billion in 2009. However, the New York Times is cutting its slice with a different knife from that of Dow Jones or The Washington Post.

The latter two both bought Web sites that look a lot like offline news outfits. MarketWatch and Slate are assembled in much the same way as old media are, with journalists reporting and writing stories under the direction of editors. The content at is created far less expensively by people who are passionate about a particular subject, which is what makes the site blog-like.

Because blogs--and's topics--are so specialized, they foster the establishment of a community of like-minded readers. Community is what keeps users on a Web site longer and gets them to return more often. People who feel part of an online community are inspired to participate themselves, posting their own contributions."

As far as NYT's long term digital strategy goes, there's a nice timeline here.

Ethics and the blogosphere

What are the rules when commercial entities offer payments or freebies to get bloggers to write about them?

In the US this issue has become a concern for many media watchers. JD Lasica asks some important questions in a piece for OJR:
"Just how far can marketers go in soliciting blog coverage of their products or services? Does the practice of paying bloggers to blog about a product amount to an advertorial, embedded infomercial or product placement – and does such an arrangement violate the compact of trust between reader and writer? Or is it simply the next logical step in the blogosphere’s evolution from hobby to business opportunity? Do different rules apply to journalists who blog?"

Friday, February 18, 2005

UK evening papers under threat

We don't have any left in Australia ... at least I don't think so. But they do in London. In fact, it's so long since there was an evening metro paper in an Australian city that most young readers probably aren't even aware of the tradition. Of course MX in Melbourne keeps the old flame alive in some ways ... but it ain't the same.

Do we want them back? Maybe. But who's got time to read an evening paper? If I want something meatier than MX (which I do) I print a handful of pieces from Arts & Letters Daily for reading on the train home.

The poms, though, are still worrying about the death of evening papers. As far as it is part of the inexorable decline of readership generally, it's most definitely worth worrying about. But from a nostalgic point of view - fuggedaboudit!

Simon Jenkins won't though. Here he makes the point that monopolies are not healthy for newspapers:
"The Standard's troubles began when it became a monopoly in 1980. No monopoly paper can satisfy every point on the spectrum. When Beaverbrook's old Standard as spliced with Harmsworth's old Evening News, the pill was sweetened by the single title remaining the Standard. But a competitive edge was lost. Journalists no longer measured their work against a rival. Their enemy became a solitary and remorseless one, the circulation figure. It has beaten them at every turn."
There is a big opening for free evening commuter papers:
"The obvious question now is whether the group can recoup the plummeting revenue from sales by increasing revenue from freesheet advertising. This is not inconceivable.

There is a shift, admittedly often a desperate one, from paid-for to free evening papers worldwide."
Jenkins is not pessimistic about the industry, though:

"The total circulation of so-called quality titles has risen steadily over the past 40 years, bolstered by constant product change. It was 1.8m in 1960, 2.2m in 1980 and is an admittedly hesitant 2.3m today. In the past year, those that have failed to innovate - the Telegraph, Guardian and Financial Times - have suffered. But others, notably the Times and the Independent, have boomed. The compact revolution has been an adrenalin shot no one predicted. Later this year comes the 'midi' Guardian, and perhaps another revolution. Dead this industry is not."

Blogs from inside the MSM

Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal nails the relationship between blogs and MSM.
1. They use the tools of journalists ...
2. Bloggers, unlike reporters at elite newspapers and magazines, are independent operators ...
3. Bloggers have an institutional advantage in terms of technology and form ...
4. Bloggers are also selling the smartest take on a story ...
5. And they're doing it free ...
6. It is not true that there are no controls ...

The limits of We Media

Mary Lou Fulton on Morph outlines a few thoughts on where participatory journalism might take newspapers.
"While I am a passionate advocate of citizen journalism and believe it will play a huge role in the industry's future, I don't believe 'We Media' is the silver bullet for the newspaper industry. If we converted all of the world's newspapers to citizen journalism products tomorrow, that by itself would not ensure our survival."
It's hard to argue with that. The full range of technical tools and cultural processes need to be brought to bear on this problem.
"Consumers today use multiple products and multiple platforms for information. Maybe the subscriber of the future only gets the weekend paper and gets customized e-mail content plus SMS text alerts from us during the week? How do we transition away from the 7-day subscriber mentality and orient our product design and sales processes around more fluid kinds of consumer scenarios?"
Newsrooms are going to have to consider these sorts of suggestions, and either better them or test them in order to keep existing readers and, hopefully, attract new readers.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

RSS explained

Jonathan Dube does such a good job of explaining real simple syndication that even journalists can understand it:

"RSS will save you time and make your Web surfing much more efficient. Rather than tediously checking dozens of Web sites for new information, RSS enables you to go to one place and find all the latest content from each of those sites. RSS makes it easy to read lots of sites -- from weblogs to major media — in very little time."

Steve Outing look s at the impact that RSS is having on newspapers web sites, taking in the adoption rate.

Murdoch and the web

So now he's worried.

News Corp is taking its most serious look at its online operations since Rupert's son James led a failed high-tech push in the 1990s. Murdoch is re-focusing on the Web amid declining newspaper readership, a sharp rise in consumer broadband use, and growth in internet advertising, especially in the area of paid searches.

About 50 senior News Corporation executives, including Murdoch, met in New York on Wednesday to map out an internet strategy for the global media company on how it should tackle the sharp growth in internet advertising and changing viewing habits.

And they brought some McKinsey chaps along to help them work out what to do.

Emily Bell at The Guardian questions whether Rupert's gathering in New York "is a serious call to arms or just another exercise in a phoney war".

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Protecting print from online

This is a long running discussion. It rarely flares into argument because the evidence has not been conclusive either way, and the progressive lobby within media organisations (apart from News) has at least been able to persuade execs that brand awareness, the need to chase young audiences - indeed any audience - is paramount, and online is the way to do it.

Those arguments are still true, but there is an increasing awareness in some quarters that cannibalisation of print sales is real.

Enter one of Scandinavia's larger newspaper organisations, Verdensgang. On the back of a 3.9% decline in circulation they have decided on some new rules of publication:

1. Feature stories will not be published in the online edition.
2. Consumer-interest stories will not be published online before after lunch.
3. The front pages of the paper and online editions will have different expressions.
4. Columnists will write exclusively for the paper edition.

via Poynter redesign has launched its new look site. A major difference is the absence of left hand navigation which has, instead, been replaced with a top nav running in a blue strip beneath the masthead.

A press release from the site says:

'The adjustment allows for an uncluttered, user-friendly look and the ability to include more news and multimedia content.' executive editor Jim Brady says 'The new design gives us the flexibility to provide more information upfront in a cleaner, more streamlined interface.'
At first look I wasn't convinced. But they have used rollovers well across the top nav, so there is still good penetration into back areas of the site, and the layout has certainly freed up some front page real estate for story display. That much is good.

One problem I found was that the page does not re-size. It's a fair bit wider than the old page and on some screens you have to scroll left and right to see the complete page. That's not good.

Jim Brady talks more about the site's redesign and other general web-related issues here.

Greg Edwards of Eyetools Research did a fascinating heatmap of a group of 19 new visitors viewing's new front page to see what can be learned from its design. He concluded that the main content area in the top half of the page has a good readable design. "It is heavily viewed and read (more so than some other news sites). Good use of line-spacing and white-space. People even scroll. Job well done!"

He also found that the bottom half of the page has ineffective line-height spacing and lack of white-space reduce reading. Most of the content is being missed and there is no consistent guidance of eyes to section headings. Opportunities to communicate value to visitors is greatly reduced in this area.

A lot of research has gone into looking at the way people read news web pages - Poynter's eyetrack study from last year is a good example - and that research tends to support the choices made by the's team.

Telling readers about re-designs and explaining where popular features can be found is an important part of easing the process for all. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did just this when it adopted day-parting with a comprehensive explanation of what it is and how it works.

Similarly, Newsday's Flash walkthrough of their new site is a nice feature for readers.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Blog stormtroopers?

The US blogosphere has been exercised by the Jordan Eason story over the last couple of weeks. Eason, who has now resigned from CNN, reportedly said something he shouldn't have at a World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. Jay Rosen has the necessary background.

For Australian readers the details are probably of remote interest. But for media watchers, particularly online media watchers, the issues fit nicely on a continuum that includes all of the blogosphere "gotcha" stories of the last year or so such as Rathergate, and Blairgate to name just two.

So the Eason story got the juices flowing on more than a couple of blogs, Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine particularly. While Rosen sees it as a fairly minor story:
"I don't think he should have resigned. I don't know why he did. Neither the public overlooking this sad event, nor the participants in it know why Eason Jordan quit. No reasons have been given, beyond saving CNN the trouble of a controversy."
Jarvis, on the other hand, has responded to the New York Times' coverage which he sees as wrongheaded and petty towards blogs and citizen journalists. He's written an open letter to the Times' public editor.

Illustration: John Spooner /

... but not newspapers

Robert Scoble reckons newspapers are done for - get over it, they're history.

But he does admit he likes reading "newspaper brands". So how long will he be able to continue doing that if there are no more papers to carry the "brand" online? No sweat; he's confident "new journalism business models are springing up like mushrooms after a spring rain".

Monday, February 14, 2005

Saving journalism ...

Tim Porter is reading Phillip Meyer's new book The Vanishing Newspaper, Saving Journalism in the Information Age in which Meyer attempts to prove the link between quality journalism and profitability.

The book has generated much discussion in the US, prompted in part by a piece Meyer wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review in December last year.

In the introduction to his book Meyer says:
"This book is an attempt to isolate and describe the factors that made journalism work as a business in the past and that might also make it work with the changing technologies of the present and the future. … The main value of the work that follows is that it offers a model for looking at the news business that supports our intuitive appreciation for quality and, most importantly, can be transferred to whatever strange forms of media will convey news in the future."
It's the key question for newspapers, and one that's inevitably tied to how they make money.

Here's Porter's summary -
1. The influence model
2. How newspapers make money
3. How advertisers make decisions
4. Credibility and influence
5. Accuracy in reporting
6. Readability
7. Do editors matter?
8. The last line of defence
9. Capacity measures
10. How newspapers were captured by Wall Street
11. Saving journalism
12. What can we do?

What's the cost of editorial independence?

French dailies are suffering as much as newspapers anywhere. They're battling dropping circulation figures, an intransigent union - Syndicat du Livre - and competition from free commuter dailies.

But the solutions are not always anodyne.

In response to the crisis, two of the biggest - Libé and Le Figaro - have found backers with deep pockets. Libé's savior is Rothschild, while Le Figaro was acquired last summer by defense tycoon Serge Dassault for an estimated $1.6 billion.

The new owners are mostly interested in influence, as BusinessWeek reports:
"The government wields enormous power over the economy, and industrialists are always looking for ways to promote their interests. But that can lead to newsroom clashes. Last August, Dassault told Le Figaro not to publish part of a story referring to talks between France and Algeria over buying Dassault's Rafale fighter. 'The journalist was told that the line he wrote about the Rafale negotiation would make our group uncomfortable,' says Le Figaro board member Rudi Roussillon. Dassault declined to comment."

'Twas Flynn who pulled the pin

Fairfax replies to the Oz's weekend story about the search for a new CEO:
"... sources involved in the negotiations claim it was Mr Flynn who delayed talks for about a month at the end of last year, derailing what had been a 'very productive' phase of negotiations.

A Fairfax spokesman said: 'We regret Mr Flynn's interview. It is a fundamental and rude misrepresentation of the discussions.'"

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Not in, like Flynn

Peter Wilson, in The Australian, talks to Doug Flynn about why he knocked back the job of Fairfax CEO. It's a tough piece, and worth remembering that Wilson has had his own close encounters with the Fairfax interview process. He was reportedly a candidate for the position of Editor in Chief of The Age before the job eventually went to Andrew Jaspan.

Wilson is quoting Flynn on the selection process:
"'I have to take great care in what I am saying, because this is The Australian, after all, and newspapers tend to take great delight in pouring shit all over the opposition - you can quote that. But the truth is the process was too slow. It was inadequate. They had basically asked me to come but it was just taking forever to conclude it. It just felt a bit unwelcoming and a bit begrudging, the whole thing.'

Fairfax, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age in Melbourne and The Australian Financial Review, first approached Flynn four months ago, well before Rentokil sounded him out, 'but it was just all too slow and indecisive'.

'I had accepted the money, which was about half what I am getting over here, (but) the problem was the process.'

Fairfax chairman Dean Wills was not always available to talk to him as 'Dean is not a young guy and he's been ill'.

'They had intermediaries involved in the process and I think that is where it fell down,' Flynn says. "I think if it had just been Dean we could have concluded it in about a day.

'They made an offer but it kept on moving. I just said, 'I have had enough'. I had an enormous amount of time pressure put on me from three different directions: my own company (Aegis) because (the approach from Fairfax) had become public months before, so it left this company - which I love dearly - in the shtook; I had school considerations, with school starting on January 28 in Australia; and another company (Rentokil) had approached me after Fairfax had approached me.'

A Fairfax spokesman yesterday refused to comment on the lengthy negotiations but Flynn says the selection process left him worrying about how much he would enjoy actually doing the job.

'Dean is a lovely guy but he has made it clear that he is going to move on as chairman. I just think they have got to get a more decisive, clearer process to go through next time around, otherwise they are going to have the same trouble again with whoever they try to put in. You can always find somebody to do that role; it just depends whether they know what they are doing.'"

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Media mergers may not happen

Alan Kohler is one of the more perceptive commentators on Australia's media scene. In today's Age he gives a clear account of why there may be less activity this year than has recently been speculated upon and, specifically, what's been happening to newspaper circulation, why, and what this means to potential takeover or merger scenarios.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More on The Reader

Eric Beecher and Di Gribble together are a blast of fresh air on the Australian media scene. Their success has empowered them to take risks others might only wish they could take. More power to them, I say.

And wouldn't I love to help them set their strategy. A small, smart, cashed up media company with high ideals, and experienced, realistic owners with a willingness to take risks presents an attractive opportunity to work through ideas.

So having admitted that, it's hard to watch as a good idea gets mangled. And that's what is happening with The Reader.

Crikey has dug up an interview with Eric Beecher and Di Gribble from an October 2003 issue of The Australian Financial Review's Boss magazine where the two discuss their working partnership. It's particularly interesting on The Reader.

Says Beecher: "You know when you launch it's going to take a year, maybe two, before you're anywhere near pleased with it. We've been doing The Reader for a little over a year, and we think it's ready now."

Ready for what? Sure it looks nice. It's well designed, though understandably text heavy. The re-writing and summarising is competent, and the coverage reasonably thorough.

This is not the problem. Neither is the aim of targetting time poor professionals with a digest of the week's issues.

No, the problem, imo, is with the format, the price, and the distribution.

Why is it available in print only? Why wouldn't you use email and a web site, as well as the nicely laid out magazine pages distributed in PDF format?

A product like The Reader could get to a much larger audience if it targetted professionals at work. Deliver them a manageable PDF file twice a week via email (instead of once a week to newsagents), for printing at their workplace and reading on the commute home or at the weekend. Do this and you'll stand out from the crowd.

In fact, I can't see why this isn't done more. Shares magazine used to do it with a separate weekly online subscription magazine. It eventually became a victim of its own success with page numbers and acompanying file sizes too large for most subscribers who were still on dial-up accounts (this was in about 2000-01). But the idea was a good one.

This method would avoid the costly overheads of printing and distributing the magazine, but it would allow the publisher to maintain the display ad ratios and yields whilst getting to a larger readership.

The price structure would have to be revised of course, but any drop in subscription rates or cover price would be well and truly offset by increased numbers.

If The Reader decided to employ this sort of strategy, then it would indeed be ready.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Free archives? Maybe, but not yet

Lots of blogosphere discussion about the merits of open and free archives versus locked, pay-per-view archives.

Simon Waldman has been an advocate, arguing that permanence builds value and credibility. It has worked for The Guardian, of which Waldman is director of digital publishing. (He'd know, in other words.)

OJR's Mark Glaser has a good wrap of the issues.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

More on the Crikey sale

Margaret Simons in Saturday's Age covers the bases efficiently. Among other things Simons is the author of Fit to Print: Inside the Canberra Press Gallery, one of the better essays on the relationship between media and politics in Australia's capital.

And she gets the difference between a web site and an email newsletter! So does new co-owner, Eric Beecher:
"Beecher says the email method of delivery is unique in the world. The arrival of Crikey in the inbox, he says, carries the same satisfying feeling as the arrival of a newspaper over the fence. 'I wish we could organise for it to arrive with a thud noise, like a newspaper hitting the veranda.'"
Unique in the world? Big claim! But at least he recognises it's one of the keys to Crikey's success.

Beecher's wonderment at Crikey's use of email delivery is kind of strange given his experience in the media and his reputation as a sharp operator. He recently sold his company, Text Media, to Fairfax for $64 million.

A bio reads: Eric Beecher is

"an absolute media junkie who's been in journalism since he was about 12 years old. He's worked on Australian and British newspapers, been editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, editor in chief of the Herald & Weekly Times group, and was one of the founders of The Text Media Group."

But despite this experience he's still amazed at the power of email. Still, even this is consistent with his enthusiasm for his other current project, The Reader.

The Reader is just plain odd, imo. It's not a web-based product; the minimal site is just a subscription driver for the print product. But the print product is a roundup/summary of the week's events as published by other media, all of which have web sites.

Beecher's Reader retails for $4 a week, or $192 a year subscription. It describes itself as "a nifty, pocket-sized weekly magazine that cherry-picks from over 650 newspapers, magazines and websites to bring you intelligence from everywhere".

OK, the idea of filtering the important stuff is fine. The Reader also summarises a lot of editorial. But I can't understand why anyone would seriously expect to make money competing against free alternatives. The web is no longer a different universe, and The Reader's (presumably) AB target audience is also an online audience. So, of that AB demographic, you're selling to either an elderly, anti-web readership or ... who?

10 years of web journalism got in early, but as we click over the ten year mark for online journalism how far have we come?

What have we learned? What do we need to know? Poynter’s Web + 10 seminar offers some suggestions.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Crikey is not just a web site

Daniel Donahoo has weighed into the debate about the business value of internet publishing following Crikey's deal with Eric Beecher. In an oped piece in today's Age Donahoo asks: "The sale is good for the founder, but will it good for the site?"

I may be guilty of being too harsh here, but that question betrays a fair degree of ignorance. Or perhaps Donahoo is just repeating the same, annoying mistake that others have in the rush to get with the new thang.

Listen up: internet publishing is NOT, repeat NOT, simply about web sites. It never has been and it never will be.

And Crikey, in particular, has relied less on its web site than most other online publishing efforts of the last ten years. As I said yesterday, the "key to Crikey, which is often overlooked, is the daily email newsletter, delivered twice a day to the reported 5,300 influential subscribers in Australian business, politics and the media. The web site is relatively unimportant to this model."

Donahoo compares Crikey to the indymedia sites which came into prominence in the late 90s. The idea here was that anyone could upload stories and images to a central location where they would be published as part of an "independent e-zine".

Those tools were of their day - the Seattle S11 anti-globalisation protests made the indymedia name widely recognisable. But this publishing model doesn't bear any similarity to the Crikey system.

Unfortunately the piece in The Age gives a quite misleading picture of what Crikey is and where it has come from. Donahoo is correct to say the new owners will "be wanting to increase advertising revenue and the number of subscribers". But most readers' response might be: "Duh, of course!"

Still, anyone, Beecher and Gribble included, will struggle to make money from the Crikey web site. The value for readers is in the email newsletter. The new owners might decide to change this, dump the newsletter delivery and simply whack everything on the site with password access for subscribers. They may seriously consider giving that a try ... except lots of evidence shows it doesn't work.

Crikey has been successful largely because it is delivered to those 5,300 inboxes each day. The distribution is via a push model - similar to newspaper delivery - as opposed to a pull model where subscribers have to remember to visit the web site. There are now other methods, such as RSS or aggregators, that might achieve a similar result for a web site, but is the Crikey audience willing to make all the necessary changes to their online reading habits for this to work? Maybe, but it's a risk.

In lieu of this, the real value for the new owners will remain the database of email addresses that make up the Crikey subscriber list. Not the web site. How they manage the relationship with that group of subscribers will determine whether they can make a go of the acquisition or whether they have to hand the reins back to Mayne at the end of the 18 month initial phase of the deal.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The broadsheet dilemma

More on the trend towards tabloid or compact size newspapers.

Australian newspapers are being coy about this. John Hartigan from News cites uncertainty about "impact on readership" for the reluctance of The Australian and Brisbane's Courier Mail to publicly embrace the international trend towards small. You've got to wonder how long they can hold out in a company that has made a speciality of the tabloid.

The real reason for this reluctance is advertisers. Media buyer John Sintras illustrated the point when he said "it was unlikely his company would pay the same rates because of 'less impact' from a smaller page".

While some advertisers are willing to pay the same rate for a smaller ad, not all are. Until the doubters are persuaded it's not likely to happen.

Mayne's million dollar chance

Today's newspapers are all over the Crikey story. Mark Day in The Australian, describes Mayne as a gadfly,

"who pioneered a new form of journalism on the internet. Crikey broke all the rules of traditional publishing, regularly reporting rumours without checking and frequently getting things wrong."
... Day takes the opportunity, as he so often does, to deliver a backhander to all journalism on the internet.

But elsewhere he wants to take some of the credit for Mayne's deal:

"So it was in October last year when Stephen Mayne, owner of the gadfly Crikey email newsletter and website was approached by The Australian's Media section to talk about his internet publishing venture. " [...]

"He was asked by Media: what next? [...]

"Media duly set the bait, reporting him as saying: 'I have to decide whether to hire an editor or take on a partner. I wouldn't expect any offers from any of the major publishers, because we play the outsider game so aggressively'."
The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have been a little more straightforward in their reporting. The words are mostly Mayne's, though.

To his subscribers there is nothing new in any of these reports. Subscribers were the first to learn about the deal - subscribers are always the first to learn anything there is to know about the Mayne family, whether it's about Mrs Crikey's reaction to some new project or Grandad Mayne, the oldest living columnist in the world, reporting on the 20th century - Mayne's family have always been part of Crikey.

And that's part of the charm. It's hard to see how a corporate owner can take Crikey to the "next level" whilst retaining the folksy appeal mixed with the gossipy tartness that Crikey has established as its signature.

The key to Crikey, which is often overlooked, is the daily email newsletter, delivered twice a day to the reported 5,300 influential subscribers in Australian business, politics and the media.

The web site is relatively unimportant to this model. It's simply an archive, and despite Stephen's alternative strategies of locking it for subscribers or attempting to leverage advertising opportunities by opening it to all, it's difficult to see how this would have any real long term value.

The problem is the nature of Crikey's coverage. Unattributed insider gossip makes entertaining reading today but it's hardly a permanent, valuable record of events for tomorrow. If you're not doing original reporting, or serious analysis, then where's the long term value of your material?

They've made some effort to address this recently by developing a roster of contributors who can liven the mix of stories across sport, entertainment and politics. News stories sold as scoops with anonymous sources and fake bylines have short shelf lives so Crikey has outed popular political columnist Hilary Bray as Christian Kerr and sent Hugo Kelly to Canberra as political correspondent.

It's a good move, but I'm not sure it has worked. Kelly is in direct competition with the rest of the Canberra press gallery, and Kerr seems to have gone off the boil since dropping the Hilary Bray persona. The latter may pick up, but having Kelly in Canberra is probably not the right decision.

Nevertheless, Mayne's occasional analysis, particularly of business issues, is always good. But this just points to another problem which is that Mayne himself is the real star turn at Crikey and without him it can often be fairly dull.

Mayne has always been an entertaining writer and energetic self-promoter. His six year-old treatise on is a delightfully gonzoesque rant about life inside the Kennett bunker circa 1998. In fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that Mayne is one of the more talented Australian journalists of his generation.

And that presents a problem for Crikey under the Beecher management. Despite keeping Mayne on as a writer for the next 18 months, the challenge will be to develop Crikey as a publication independent from and no longer reliant on, Stephen Mayne.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Crikey sells

Stephen Mayne has accepted a reported $1million for Crikey, the email driven publishing business that has wormed its way under the skin of business, politics and media types for the last five years.

It's a first for Australian internet publishing businesses ... more later, when time allows. Meantime, there are some good points here.